How/where are you celebrating your birthday and with whom? “I will be at a corporate board meeting in London that day, but celebrated in two ways the weekend before: first, with my special friend Marion Ein Lewin, whose birthday is the day before; second, as a proud father and grandfather, watching my son and daughter-in-law Jay and Jessica Eizenstat receive a special award for their service to the Torah School of Greater Washington, and at the same event, to dedicate a resource room for children with different learning requirements at the Torah School in the name of my wonderful late wife of 45 years Fran Eizenstat. Having this satisfaction is the best way to celebrate.”
How did you get your start in your career? “Careers are built one step at a time, with hard work and luck. As a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I was inspired by a 1962 speech at Keenan Stadium by President John F. Kennedy to serve my country. There were several key events in my political career. In the summer of 1963 between my junior and senior year, I was selected as an intern from UNC in Congress, which directly exposed me to policy-making at an early point. In the summer of 1964, after my graduation and before entering Harvard Law School, I worked on the political staff of the Postmaster General of the United States, then a Cabinet officer, John Gronouski, and at night with the National Young Democrats of America, going to my first Democratic Convention. My immediate boss was Robert Hardesty, Gronouski’s chief speechwriter. When he moved to the LBJ White House as a speechwriter he asked me to join his staff after I graduated from Harvard Law School.”
“Between 1967-1968, I got my first initiation into life in the White House, working on domestic policy and congressional issues. My office was in the Executive Office Building immediately next door to the office of Vice President Hubert Humphrey; when President Johnson bowed-out of the 1968 presidential race, I left the White House to become research director of the Humphrey presidential campaign against Richard Nixon. Again, another break occurred when I went back to my hometown of Atlanta to serve as a law clerk for a federal judge. Rather than volunteer for the leading candidate for the 1970 Georgia gubernatorial race, former Gov. Carl Sanders, at the urging of my grammar and high school friend Henry Bauer, I met underdog former state senator Jimmy Carter, who had lost his first race for governor in 1966, and served as his policy adviser in his successful campaign. In 1973 after Gov. Carter was appointed by DNC Chairman Robert Strauss to be chairman of the DNC’s congressional campaign, Carter asked me to draft two dozen position papers in domestic, foreign and defense policy, for Democratic candidates for Congress, for whom he campaigned. I reached out to many of the experts at think tanks and on congressional staffs who would later become part of the Carter Administration. When Carter ran for president, I served as his policy director, and then as his chief White House Domestic Policy Adviser.”
What’s an interesting book/article you’re reading now or finished? And why? “My major activity regarding books has been to promote my own new book ‘President Carter: The White House Years,’ with some 50 book events around the country. But I have had the opportunity to finish Ron Chernow’s ‘Grant’ and am now reading ‘Presidents of War’ by Michael Beschloss (who gave a strong endorsement to my book).”
What is a trend going on in the U.S. or abroad that doesn’t get enough attention? “There are several intersecting trends. One is the growth of populist, nationalist parties which control the government in the United States, much of the Central and Eastern European countries, Italy, Brazil and Mexico, and Israel, and exert increased influence from Sweden to Germany. The second is a commensurate growth of autocratic regimes in parts of the European Union (to which I was U.S. Ambassador in the Clinton Administration) in countries like Hungary and Poland, which threaten traditional western values of independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, tolerance of dissent, the rights of opposing parties. Third is the increasingly effective use of cyber-attacks by Russia and China to reap security information, steal intellectual property, undermine democratic elections, and sew discord among western allies. Last, and least recognized, is a new isolationism by the U.S. government, leading to a decline in influence of the United States abroad, leaving a serious vacuum into which Russia and China are filling in Asia and the Middle East.
“This has resulted from the unilateral actions of the administration in questioning the value of NATO and the European Union (which is seen more as a competitor than ally); unilaterally withdrawing from the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), handing China a gift in influence in Asia, the Paris Climate Change agreement; and the JCPOA with Iran. In addition, unpredictable decisions like withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria cedes Iran and Russia a clear field in which to extend their influence; and cutting in half U.S. forces in Afghanistan, undermines a potential peace deal with the Taliban. Unilateral trade tariffs, not only against China, but against some of our closest allies in Europe and Canada, add to an estrangement. No other western country or combination of countries, including the member states of the EU, can substitute for U.S. engagement together with our traditional allies to combat threat to global security.”
How is the Trump presidency going? “President Trump has been a transformative president, solidifying support from Republicans like no other modern Republican president. He has done so by changing the Republican Party into his own image from a free trade to a protectionist party, an internationally engaged to an America First isolationist party, from a party concerned with fiscal responsibility and budget deficits to one which believes these are of secondary importance. He is presiding over one of the strongest periods of economic growth, and while this began in the Obama Administration, this has been enhanced by the tax cuts passed with his leadership. As a novice to politics, he has proven to be a master politician rallying his base and belittling opponents. The 2020 election will depend upon whether he can broaden his support among independents, the state of the economy, and the quality of the Democratic opposition.”
What’s a fun fact that people in Washington might not know about you? “While I am known to be a serious policy person, I do not take myself too seriously; that I have a sense of humor, although well-hidden; and that as a former All-City and Honorable Mention All-American high school basketball player in Atlanta, I have a great love of sports. I follow the aphorism of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, who said he begins every morning reading the sports page first, so he can learn about man’s (and now woman’s) achievements before reading about their foibles in the rest of the paper. I look at box scores in basketball and baseball, and have a particular affinity for the Washington Nationals baseball team.”